Water Ceremony and Ingathering

Water Ceremony and Ingathering

September 10, 2023 –  Rev. Rita Capezzi

Water Ceremony and Ingathering

I crossed water to be with you today—I crossed the Niagara River. I crossed the Credit River. And the Jordan Harbour and 18 Mile Creek and the Welland Canal, and more that I don’t know or know the names for. I crossed bridges to be here with you, willingly and freely, bridges of nationality and identity as well as bridges of concrete and steel. I am so pleased to cross, to be here with you today and to serve among you for the next two years. I thank the Interim Ministry Search Committee and your Board of Directors for inviting me.

Some of you may have recognized the meditation song from the Coen Brother’s film “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” The earliest version of “Down to the River to Pray,” though, was published in the 1867 collection entitled Slave Songs in the United States. As is true of many songs of people enslaved, the words held coded messages referring explicitly to their efforts to escape bondage. The “starry crown” refers as much to the North Star as it does to any apparel some Jesus in a celestial heaven might wear. The words of this song also served to re-write the relationship between the people and the god of their understanding—from the oppressive god of white supremacy exacting obedience from brutal masters to the loving god of guidance and protection.

When we use a song such as this in Unitarian Universalist worship, a song with Christian roots, it is necessary to contextualize it, even to re-contextualize it. Did you know this was a hymn that emerged from a Christian context? Did you know this was a hymn that emerged from the context of American enslavement? Other songs this morning come out of that same Christian and American context of enslavement, as well as from the Jewish traditions marking the enslavement of the Chosen People. Do these contexts, very different from your own perhaps, trouble you, bother you, rub you the wrong way? Is there here a bridge you might cross?

Re-contextualizing is another way of saying that we need all of us to become aware of our own habitual ways of seeing, recognizing those ways and even asking questions of them. Something, somehow, is going to trouble our waters, and we need to meet that trouble in good ways, even when, and especially if, we have been harmed or traumatized. In order to nurture a vision for this religious community, we need to pressure our ways of seeing—ever so slightly or in big wide gulps—so that we do not grow complacent, so that we do not stop learning, so that we may be open to new possibility not before imagined. Re-visioning, attending to how we make sense of our realities—immediate ones as well as those more vast—this is what keeps us fresh. This is what keeps us in community, without assumption and without judgment, and able to imagine, to visualize a better, stronger, more justice way of living—immediately in this Congregation and in the web of social, cultural, and environmental worlds we also inhabit. When we see anew, we learn new ways to live freely and truthfully. Thus, we recognize our humanity and the humanity of everyone. Thus, we build community from our individual presence.

Re-contextualizing means also that we must acknowledge that no one of us can grasp the whole picture of anything, that we have things to learn from each other, that we need to transform ourselves, experience in new and different ways, if we are to aid in the transformation of a hurting, a suffering world. And we need help, all of us, we need help in order to see clearly and to see anew. I know I do. And I believe, with all my heart, that it is only the merging streams of our separate perceptions which will gives us a glimpse of a larger reality, the larger reality of which we are a part, that larger reality we also shape with our awareness and our work of goodness and justice amongst ourselves and in the wider world. We need community in order to make our individual visions known and real.

How might we, together, grow our wonder and our joy in good ways, ways that make our Congregation a sustaining place for more folk, here and in the larger community? One way is to call upon the god of our understanding, the Spirit of Life and Love flowing through all things. We pray that we will live good lives, lives worthy of the short space of time we have together, lives full of purpose and compassion, lives full of mercy and justice. This is why we come to the water, again and again. May we all call upon that greater goodness and vital liveliness, however we individually define it, to guide our hearts and our minds to wisdom and vision enlarged. To be reminded, to be renewed, to be transformed.

Another way is to remember that we are all made up of the same life stuff. We are all made of water, that adorable droplet—sweet and small and also worthy of our unconditional positive regard. “We are absolutely a part of the cycle of water. All of life is.” We are all made of water, that fount of many blessings, a force volatile and enduring and changeable. When we say that streams and creeks and runs seek the rivers, when we say rivers seek the lakes and the oceans, we are also saying that we seek communion with that larger body which we make and of which we are made. May we open our eyes to the gifts we bring, to the gifts of others, to the gifts that we are, each of us, in this beautiful and painful watery world.

As we re-commit to each other, to this religious community, to a world in need of our service, and to living life as Unitarian Universalists, may we remember that we have only this one blue boat home. Let us cherish it as we sail together, always together.

May it be so and Amen.